ORANGEBURG — Since Domènec Torrent took charge of New York City FC last June, the Spaniard has learned some of the nuances separating Major League Soccer from European football.
The seemingly haphazard scheduling. The grueling travel. The competitive parity. The inconsistent playing surfaces.
It’s all nothing quite like what Torrent experienced during a long career as an assistant coach and manager across Europe, but he’s not complaining about the realities of American soccer he and others have discovered upon arriving in MLS.
“It is what it is. Right now, in the moment, I accept the rules of MLS because I am working here. It was not easy for me to understand that when we arrived here,” Torrent said.
After defeating FC Cincinnati in a comeback victory on the road Saturday, NYCFC finds itself in the middle of a congested stretch of its MLS schedule. City is gearing up for its second game in five days when the club faces Columbus Crew SC on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. That precedes a rivalry matchup with the Red Bulls this coming Saturday, also in the Bronx, for three matches in eight days.
Torrent said he read complaints from some European stars who made the jump to MLS before him, but that he’s no longer as bothered as others by the compact scheduling given it affects all clubs equally.
“Sometimes, I read in newspaper or on Twitter, [Zlatan Ibrahimovich] or [Wayne] Rooney for example, the long trips, the schedule is not easy to play, this and that. Especially in summertime when you have to play four games in 15 days, it’s not easy,” Torrent said. “But for every single team it’s the same. It’s not easy to accept that but you have to accept, because if you want to work here you have to accept, if not you have to go back home in Barcelona, you know?”
Brazilian striker Héber Araujo dos Santos, who leads the club with 12 goals since joining from Croatia this offseason, admitted the scheduling format can be confusing for players new to the league.
“It’s tough when we have three games in eight days, we cannot rest well, but we need to play, we don’t have another way. Sometimes, I don’t understand the [schedule] here, sometimes we don’t play for, I don’t know, for 15 days, and after we have eight games in one week, so it’s crazy,” Héber said with a laugh.
Torrent, who took over for Patrick Viera in the middle of the 2018 season, joined the club following 11 years working directly with Pep Guardiola at FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and most recently Manchester City, NYCFC’s sister club under City Football Group. While his experience is invaluable, the luxuries of some of Europe’s elite clubs may not have fully prepared him or others for the grind of MLS.
“I understand these two amazing players and I understand the fans. They’re used to working in another way. Rest five or six days. The travel is about in Europe one hour, maximum one hour. Here, I read Rooney say the last travel was 12 hours.”
According to Torrent, a recent NYCFC return trip from Orlando, typically a 2 1/2-hour flight, took nearly 11 hours.
“Maybe it was a mistake for the people who worked before in Europe, you thinking about MLS, it’s a good league, the travel is about three hours, but that reality is not reality,” Torrent said.
While he accepts the actual reality of the siutation, Torrent said the product can suffer with too many matches or too much travel in a short period of time.
“It’s not easy because the performance is not the same, not just for New York City, for every single team, it’s not the same when you play four games in 12 days or 11 days, the performance is not the same and if you are thinking about the fans, it’s better when you play 100 percent, but I repeat, it is what it is, if you want to work here you have to accept, and I accept.”
Despite the quick turnaround, Torrent said it’s crucial his team doesn’t let up against Columbus. The Crew sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but unlike Torrent’s days in Europe, that doesn’t mean a victory will be easy to achieve.
“In Spain for example, or from my experience in the German or Premier League, usually when you play the team in the first or second or third position with the team in the bottom of the table, 90 percent they are going to win the game. Not here,” Torrent said. “MLS is a balanced league. Especially when you play away and especially when you play on a turf field, it’s not the same.”
Columbus held City to a 2-2 draw in their first matchup of the season in June, and it seems Torrent’s message about not taking lower teams lightly has resonated with his players.
“It’s a hard game, tough game. I remember the first game at Columbus was hard, we were losing 2-1 in the last minutes and [Valentín] Castellanos scored an amazing goal,” Héber said “Just because they are not at the top of the table doesn’t mean it’ll be an easy game, no chance. It’ll be hard, hard, tough game for sure.”